DwellAware: Like Seeing Your Next Home’s Medical Records

September 18, 2014

9:00 am

When you go to the doctor for an annual physical exam, your doctor combines tried and true exam practices with the latest technologies to scan, test, and measure your body. DwellAware does the same, to compile the information buyers need before buying a house.

 

The Idea

The technology spun out of a project at MIT that DwellAware founder, Storm Duncan, likens to the “Google Street View” of home energy. This technology measured the energy loss of houses with thermal and infrared imaging. Realizing the tremendous value of the data that could be collected, and knowing that there are other technologies that could help create a comprehensive view of the “health” of a home, he and his team of 3rd and 4th –time startup veterans set out to put these together as DwellAware.

The data that DwellAware collects about each aspect of a home contributes to an overall “DwellScore” that takes into consideration the component scores based on neighborhood, comfort, affordability, cost, “financeability”, and efficiency. Similar to the doctor giving a physical, their information comes from traditionally available information, such as school district ratings and safety measures. However, their use of technology helps a homebuyer to know things that, until now, they would not find out until they had lived in the home for some time. This can be more valuable than you might think.

Duncan gave the example of a buyer who discovered, after buying a home, that the electric utility bill was several thousand dollars per month. Furious that the previous homeowner did not share this information, the homeowner sued, but to no avail. Disclosing that information was not required. Caveat emptor. The homebuyer wound up spending a great deal of money to improve the efficiency of the home, dramatically reducing the utility bills. Had he used DwellAware prior to the sale, he could have negotiated for a price that would allow him to make the needed repairs, or he could have avoided the house altogether. Such a situation is a nuisance for people with the means to afford the high bills or to make the needed changes. Without the means, a cash-strapped family could be forced to live in an uncomfortable home or to face the burden of uncommonly high bills. Worse yet, the costly inefficiency of a home could cause a family to fall behind on payments and lose their home. Having the appropriate data beforehand can allow homebuyers to purchase a home, knowing better than most what they can expect when they live in the home. Duncan believes that “finding the highest quality, most comfortable home that a buyer can afford leads to happier and healthier families.”

 

The Business

Partnership with real estate agents and home inspectors prove to be an integral part of the DwellAware business model. Offering information to these key partners helps them to provide better service to their clients. Home inspectors will gather more information that is valuable to the DwellAware databases, adding the types of information that can only be collected upon an in-person inspection. In turn, the home inspectors receive a wealth of information already collected by the DwellAware team and technologies, allowing them to provide more comprehensive reports to their clients. Similarly, real estate agents benefit from the tools provided by DwellAware, which include not only the neighborhood and home information that the firm focuses on providing, but also a private-branded digital experience for each agent, that gives each agent’s customers a means to access that information. This technology shortens the sales cycle, enabling the agent to quickly hone-in on the needs of the client and to show the client fewer homes before finding the right one. As such, the DwellAware platform allows real estate agents and home inspectors to become knowledge brokers again, veering from the path of offering a commoditized service.

This business model differs from the way Trulia and Zillow approach the market, which focuses on preventing any friction between a user viewing the service offering and submitting their personal information, which Trulia or Zillow promptly sell to real estate agents. DwellAware wants to help its users find the home that best meets each individual user’s needs through a personalized scoring approach. Such a process would translate to a longer sales cycle if DwellAware shared the business model that Zillow and Trulia have so expertly employed.

The DwellAware Alpha web and mobile service launched in San Diego, CA this week, allowing users to analyze – on a hyper-local level – which property best suits each individual components they look to satisfy. A Beta test is expected by the end of this year.

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Biffrey is a real estate investor, development activist and founder of RE-Think!: The Real Estate Think Tank (formerly Real Cocktail) based in Baltimore. RE-Think! focuses on innovation around real estate and urban planning. Get tickets for the upcoming RE-Think! "Go Green" event, September 24th. Follow Biffrey @rethink00

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